Florida issued an emergency order Monday requiring all “brick-and-mortar” schools to reopen full-time starting next month, even as the state is now one of the nation’s hotspots for the coronavirus pandemic. The order even as parts of the state have paused or rolled back reopening plans due to the surging cases.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcora said in the order that Florida schools must be open “at least five days per week for all students” and provide all services required by law, including in-person instruction.
“There is a need to open schools fully to ensure the quality and continuity of the educational process, the comprehensive well-being of students and families and a return to Florida hitting its full economic stride,” the order said.
The same day he issued the order, Corcora retweeted posts from President Trump and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. Mr. Trump’s tweet said, “SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!” DeVos retweeted it and replied, “Absolutely right, @POTUS! Learning must continue for all students. American education must be fully open and fully operational this fall!”
Local school districts will be in charge of coming up with their own reopening plan and submitting it for approval from the state. The superintendent of at least one district already says the order might be asking too much.
Broward County Superintendent Robert Runcie told the Sun-Sentinel that he does “not see a realistic path” to every school safely reopening in the fall. “We will never compromise the health and safety of our students, teachers and staff,” he said. Runcie also wrote on Twitter, “We will continue to follow the advice of our public health and medical experts as to how and when it is safe for our @browardschools community to return to school.”
Florida is now third in the nation for coronavirus cases, with the state’s health department confirming 213,794 cases as of Tuesday afternoon. That includes 7,347 new cases reported on Tuesday. Florida broke its record for single-day new infections several times in late June and early July, including one day with a record high of 11,458 new cases.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently issued guidance saying it “strongly advocates” that schools “should start with a goal of having students physically present in school.” But it also says school reopening policies “must be flexible and nimble in responding to new information, and administrators must be willing to refine approaches when specific policies are not working.”
White House health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have said that school reopening must be determined on a case-by-case basis depending on the severity of outbreaks, and that a uniform national reopening plan would not work.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, has insisted the state will not go back on its reopening plans that began in May. But some counties already have rolled back certain steps after the number of cases kept climbing. Miami-Dade County closed entertainment venues such as movie theaters and casinos, and ended indoor dining for restaurants. Neighboring Broward County restricted the times that restaurants can serve food and alcohol.